President Trump said Wednesday that he knows more about the state of key U.S. intelligence than his own top intelligence officials. But he doesn’t even appear to know that those intelligence officials spoke publicly when they contradicted him.
While trying Thursday afternoon to defuse his disputes with those officials, Trump told the assembled press that they had all ironed it out. In fact, he said, those officials told him they were “totally misquoted.”
“I did" talk to them, he said, "and they said that they were totally misquoted, and they were totally — it was taken out of context. I’d suggest that you call them. They said it was fake news.”
The problem with this is that these officials gave their remarks in public testimony, not behind closed doors — as is often the case with briefings about intelligence matters. What they said clearly contradicted what Trump has said about the state of affairs with regard to Iran, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and North Korea, and Trump responded in kind on Thursday.
It’s theoretically possible that these officials told him their remarks were taken out of context and also that they told him they weren’t so directly disputing what Trump has said. (The evidence that they did, in fact, dispute it is abundantly clear.) But even if they were taken out of context — which is a big if — that’s not the same as being “misquoted.” For these intelligence officials to be “totally misquoted,” it would require a massive failure by numerous media outlets for which there is no evidence. There are publicly available transcripts of their testimony.
The episode has plenty of precedent for Trump. Trump has claimed that he never said Mexico would cut a check for the border wall, but he has. He has claimed he didn’t say many other things of which there is video.
And these officials have disagreed with Trump many times before, most notably on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the killing of Washington Post Global Opinions columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The idea that they disagree is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s pretty par for the course.
It’s quite simply very hard to believe that intelligence officials ever told Trump they had been misquoted. They have not alleged this publicly, and we’ll wait for any evidence that they have.